Cultures > Crete
Since I have already described the islands of the Peloponnesus in detail, not only the others, but also those in the Corinthian Gulf and those in front of it, I must next discuss Crete (for it, too, belongs to the Peloponnesus) and any islands that are in the neighbourhood of Crete. Among these the Cyclades and the Sporades, some worthy of mention, others of less significance.
But at present let me first discuss Crete. Now although Eudoxus says that it is situated in the Aegaean Sea, one should not so state, but rather that it lies between Cyrenea and that part of Greece which extends from Sunium to Laconia, stretching lengthwise parallel with these countries from west to east, and that it is washed on the north by the Aegaean and the Cretan Seas, and on the south by the Libyan Sea, which borders on the Aegyptian. As for its two extremities, the western is in the neighbourhood of Phalasarna; it has a breadth of about two hundred stadia and is divided into two promontories (of these the southern is called Criumetopon, the northern Cimarus), whereas the eastern is Samonium, which falls toward the east not much farther than Sunium.
As for its size, Sosicrates, whose account of the island, according to Apollodorus, is exact, defines it as follows: In length, more than two thousand three hundred stadia, and in breadth, . . . , so that its circuit, according to him, would amount to more than five thousand stadia; but Artemidorus says it is four thousand one hundred. Hieronymus4 says that its length is two thousand stadia and its breadth irregular, and therefore might mean that the circuit is greater than Artemidorus says.
For about a third of its length . . .; and then comes an isthmus of about one hundred stadia, which, on the northern sea, has a settlement called Amphimalla, and, on the southern, Phoenix, belonging to the Lampians. The island is broadest near the middle. And from here the shores again converge to an isthmus narrower than the former, about sixty stadia in width, which extends from Minoa, city of the Lyctians, to Hierapytna and the Libyan Sea; the city is situated on the gulf. Then the island projects into a sharp promontory, Samonium, which slopes in the direction of Aegypt and the islands of the Rhodians.
The island is mountainous and thickly wooded, but it has fruitful glens. Of the mountains, those towards the west are called Leuca; they do not fall short of Taÿgetus in height, extend in length about three hundred stadia, and form a ridge which terminates approximately at the narrows. In the middle, in the most spacious part of the island, is Mount Ida, loftiest of the mountains of Crete and circular in shape, with a circuit of six hundred stadia; and around it are the best cities. There are other mountains in Crete that are about as high as the Leuca, some terminating towards the south and others towards the east.
The voyage from Cyrenaea to Criumetopon takes two days and nights, and the distance from Cimarus to Taenarum is seven hundred stadia, Cythera lying between them; and the voyage from Samonium to Aegypt takes four days and nights, though some say three. Some state that this is a voyage of five thousand stadia, but others still less. Eratosthenes says that the distance from Cyrenaea to Criumetopon is two thousand, and from there to the Peloponnesus less . . .
"But one tongue with others is mixed," the poet says; "there dwell Achaeans, there Eteo-Cretans proud of heart, there Cydonians and Dorians, too, of waving plumes, and goodly Pelasgians." Of these peoples, according to Staphylus, the Dorians occupy the part towards the east, the Cydonians the western part, the Eteo-Cretans the southern; and to these last belongs the town Prasus, where is the temple of the Dictaean Zeus; whereas the other peoples, since they were more powerful, dwelt in the plains.
Now it is reasonable to suppose that the Eteo-Cretans and the Cydonians were autochthonous, and that the others were foreigners, who, according to Andron, came from Thessaly, from the country which in earlier times was called Doris, but is now called Hestiaeotis; it was from this country that the Dorians who lived in the neighbourhood of Parnassus set out, as he says, and founded Erineüs, Boeüm, and Cytinium, and hence by Homer are called "trichaïces." However, writers do not accept the account of Andron at all, since he represents the Tetrapolis Doris as being a Tripolis, and the metropolis of the Dorians as a mere colony of Thessalians; and they derive the meaning of "trichaïces" either from the "trilophia," or from the fact that the crests were "trichini."
There are several cities in Crete, but the greatest and most famous are three: Cnossus, Gortyna and Cydonia. The praises of Cnossus are hymned above the rest both by Homer, who calls it "great" and "the kingdom of Minos," and by the later poets. Furthermore, it continued for a long time to win the first honours; then it was humbled and deprived of many of its prerogatives, and its superior rank passed over to Gortyna and Lyctus; but later it again recovered its olden dignity as the metropolis.
Cnossus is situated in a plain, its original circuit being thirty stadia, between the Lyctian and Gortynian territories, being two hundred stadia distant from Gortyna, and a hundred and twenty from Lyttus, which the poet named Lyctus. Cnossus is twenty-five stadia from the northern sea, Gortyna is ninety from the Libyan Sea, and Lyctus itself is eighty from the Libyan. And Cnossus has Heracleium as its seaport.
But Minos is said to have used as seaport Amnisus, where is the temple of Eileithuia. In earlier times Cnossus was called Caeratus, bearing the same name as the river which flows past it. According to history, Minos was an excellent law‑giver, and also the first to gain the mastery of the sea; and he divided the island into three parts and founded a city in each part, Cnossus in the . . . opposite the Peloponnesus. And it, too, lies to the north. As Ephorus states, Minos was an emulator of a certain Rhadamanthys of early times, a man most just and bearing the same name as Minos's brother, who is reputed to have been the first to civilise the island by establishing laws and by uniting cities under one city as metropolis by setting up constitutions, alleging that he brought from Zeus the several decrees which he promulgated.
So, in imitation of Rhadamanthys, Minos would go up every nine years, as it appears, to the cave of Zeus, tarry there, and come back with commandments drawn up in writing, which he alleged were ordinances of Zeus; and it was for this reason that the poet says, "there Minos reigned as king, who held converse with great Zeus every ninth year." Such is the statement of Ephorus; but again the early writers have given a different account of Minos, which is contrary to that of Ephorus, saying that he was tyrannical, harsh, and an exactor of tribute, representing in tragedy the story of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth, and the adventures of Theseus and Daedalus.
Now, as for these two accounts, it is hard to say which is true; and there is another subject that is not agreed upon by all, some saying that Minos was a foreigner, but others that he was a native of the island. The poet, however, seems rather to advocate the second view when he says, "Zeus first begot Minos, guardian o'er Crete." In regard to Crete, writers agree that in ancient times it had good laws, and rendered the best of the Greeks its emulators, and in particular the Lacedaemonians, as is shown, for instance, by Plato in his Laws, and also by Ephorus, who in his Europe has described its constitution.
But later it changed very much for the worse; for after the Tyrrhenians, who more than any other people ravaged Our Sea, the Cretans succeeded to the business of piracy; their piracy was later destroyed by the Cilicians; but all piracy was broken up by the Romans, who reduced Crete by war and also the piratical strongholds of the Cilicians. And at the present time Cnossus has even a colony of Romans.
So much for Cnossus, a city to which I myself am not alien, although, on account of man's fortune and of the changes and issues therein, the bonds which at first connected me with the city have disappeared: Dorylaüs was a military expert and one of the friends of Mithridates Euergetes. He, because of his experience in military affairs, was appointed to enlist mercenaries, and often visited not only Greece and Thrace, but also the mercenaries of Crete, that is, before the Romans were yet in possession of the island and while the number of mercenary soldiers in the island, from whom the piratical bands were also wont to be recruited, was large.
Now when Dorylaüs was sojourning there war happened to break out between the Cnossians and the Gortynians, and he was appointed general, finished the war successfully, and speedily won the greatest honours. But when, a little later, he learned that Euergetes, as the result of a plot, had been treacherously slain in Sinopê by his closest associates, and heard that the succession had passed to his wife and young children, he despaired of the situation there and stayed on at Cnossus. There, by a Macetan woman, Steropê by name, he begot two sons, Lagetas and Stratarchas (the latter of whom I myself saw when he was an extremely old man), and also one daughter.
Now Euergetes had two sons, one of whom, Mithridates, surnamed Eupator, succeeded to the rule when he was eleven years old. Dorylaüs, the son of Philetaerus, was his foster brother; and Philetaerus was a brother of Dorylaüs the military expert. And when the king Mithridates reached manhood, he was so infatuated with the companionship of his foster brother Dorylaüs that he not only conferred upon him the greatest honours, but also cared for his kinsmen and summoned those who lived at Cnossus. These were the household of Lagetas and his brother, their father having already died, and they themselves having reached manhood; and they quit Cnossus and went home. My mother's mother was the sister of Lagetas.
Now when Lagetas prospered, these others shared in his prosperity, but when he was ruined (for he was caught in the act of trying to cause the kingdom to revolt to the Romans, on the understanding that he was to be established at the head of the government), their fortunes were also ruined at the same time, and they were reduced to humility; and the bonds which connected them with the Cnossians, who themselves had undergone countless changes, fell into neglect. But enough for my account of Cnossus.
After Cnossus, the city of the Gortynians seems to have ranked second in power; for when these two co‑operated they held in subjection all the rest of the inhabitants, and when they had a quarrel there was dissension throughout the island. But Cydonia was the greatest addition to whichever side it attached itself. The city of the Gortynians also lies in a plain; and in ancient times, perhaps, it was walled, as Homer states, "and well-walled Gortyn," but later it lost its walls from their very foundations, and has remained unwalled ever since; for although Ptolemy Philopator began to build a wall, he proceeded with it only about eighty stadia; at any rate, it is worth mentioning that the settlement once filled out a circuit of about fifty stadia. It is ninety stadia distant from the Libyan Sea at Leben, which is its trading-centre; it also has another seaport, Matalum, from which it is a hundred and thirty stadia distant. The Lethaeus River flows through the whole of its territory.
From Leben came Leucocomas and his lover Euxynthetus, the story of whom is told by Theophrastus in his treatise On Love. Of the tasks which Leucocomas assigned to Euxynthetus, one, he says, was this — to bring back his dog from Prasus. The country of the Prasians borders on that of the Lebenians, being seventy stadia distant from the sea and a hundred and eighty from Gortyn. As I have said,33 Prasus belonged to the Eteo-Cretans; and the temple of the Dictaean Zeus was there; for Dictê is near it, not "close to the Idaean Mountain," as Aratus says, for Dictê is a thousand stadia distant from Ida, being situated at that distance from it towards the rising sun, and a hundred from Samonium. Prasus was situated between Samonium and the Cherronesus, sixty stadia above the sea; it was rased to the ground by the Hierapytnians.
And neither is Callimachus right, they say, when he says that Britomartis, in her flight from the violence of Minos, leaped from Dictê into fishermen's "nets," and that because of this she herself was called Dictynna by the Cydoniatae, and the mountain Dictê; for Cydonia is not in the neighbourhood of these places at all, but lies near the western limits of the island. However, there is a mountain called Tityrus in Cydonia, on which is a temple, not the "Dictaean" temple, but the "Dictynnaean."
Cydonia is situated on the sea, facing Laconia, and is equidistant, about eight hundred stadia, from the two cities Cnossus and Gortyn, and is eighty stadia distant from Aptera, and forty from the sea in that region. The seaport of Aptera is Cisamus. The territory of the Polyrrhenians borders on that of the Cydoniatae towards the west, and the temple of Dictynna is in their territory. They are about thirty stadia distant from the sea, and sixty from Phalasarna. They lived in villages in earlier times; and then Achaeans and Laconians made a common settlement, building a wall round a place that was naturally strong and faced towards the south.
Of the three cities that were united under one metropolis by Minos, the third, which was Phaestus, was rased to the ground by the Gortynians; it is sixty stadia distant from Gortyn, twenty from the sea, and forty from the seaport Matalum; and the country is held by those who rased it. Rhytium, also, together with Phaestus, belongs to the Gortynians: "and Phaestus and Rhytium." Epimenides, who performed the purifications by means of his verses, is said to have been from Phaestus. And Lissen also is in the Phaestian territory. Of Lyctus, which I have mentioned before, the seaport is Chersonesus, as it is called, where is the temple of Britomartis. But the cities Miletus and Lycastus, which are catalogued along with Lyctus, no longer exist; and as for their territory, the Lyctians took one portion of it and the Cnossians the other, after they had rased the city to the ground.
Since the poet speaks of Crete at one time as "possessing a hundred cities," and also at another as "possessing ninety cities," Ephorus says that the ten were founded later than the others, after the Trojan War, by the Dorians who accompanied Althaemenes the Argive; he adds that it was Odysseus, however, who called it "Crete of the ninety cities." Now this statement is plausible, but others say that the ten cities were rased to the ground by the enemies of Idomeneus. However, in the first place, the poet does not say that Crete had one hundred cities at the time of the Trojan War, but rather in his own time (for he is speaking in his own person, although, if the statement was made by some person who was living at the time of the Trojan War, as is the case in the Odyssey, when Odysseus says "of the ninety cities," then it would be well to interpret it accordingly).
In the second place, if we should concede this, the next statement could not be maintained; for it is not likely that these cities were wiped out by the enemies of Idomeneus either during the expedition or after his return from Troy; for when p145the poet said, "and all his companions Idomeneus brought to Crete, all who escaped from the war, and the sea robbed him of none," he would also have mentioned this disaster; for of course Odysseus could not have known of the obliteration of the cities, since he came in contact with no Greeks either during his wanderings or later. And he who accompanied Idomeneus on the expedition to Troy and returned safely at home at the same time could not have known what occurred in the homeland of Idomeneus either during the expedition or the return from Troy, nor yet even after the return; for if Idomeneus escaped with all his companions, he returned home strong, and therefore his enemies were not likely to be strong enough to take ten cities away from him. Such, then, is my description of the country of the Cretans.
As for their constitution, which is described by Ephorus, it might suffice to tell in a cursory way its most important provisions. The lawgiver, he says, seems to take it from granted that liberty is a state's greatest good, for this alone makes property belong specifically to those who have acquired it, whereas in a condition of slavery everything belongs to the rulers and not to the ruled; but those who have liberty must guard it; now harmony ensues when dissension, which is the result of greed and luxury, is removed; for when all citizens live a self-restrained and simple life there arises neither envy nor arrogance nor hatred towards those who are like them; and this is why the lawgiver commanded the boys to attend the "Troops," as they are called, and the full-grown men to eat together at the public mess which they call the "Andreia," so that the poorer, being fed at public expense, might be on an equality with the well-to‑do; and in order that courage, and not cowardice, might prevail, he commanded that from boyhood they should grow up accustomed to arms and toils, so as to scorn heat, cold, marches over rugged and steep roads, and blows received in gymnasiums or regular battles; and that they should practise, not only archery, but also the war‑dance, which was invented and made known by the Curetes at first, and later, also, by the man who arranged the dance that was named after him, I mean the Pyrrhic dance, so that not even their sports were without a share in activities that were useful for warfare; and likewise that they should use in their songs the Cretic rhythms, which were very high-pitched, and were invented by Thales, to whom they ascribe, not only their Paeans and other local songs, but also many of their institutions; and that they should use military dress and shoes; and that arms should be to them the most valuable of gifts.
It is said by some writers, Ephorus continues, that most of the Cretan institutions are Laconian, but the truth is that they were invented by the Cretans and only perfected by the Spartans; and the Cretans, when their cities, and particularly that of the Cnossians, were devastated, neglected military affairs; but some of the institutions continued in use among the Lyctians, Gortynians, and certain other small cities to a greater extent than among the Cnossians; in fact, the institutions of the Lyctians are cited as evidence by those who represent the Laconian as older; for, they argue, being colonists, they preserve the customs of the mother-city, whence even on general grounds it is absurd to represent those who are better organised and governed as emulators of their inferiors; but this is not correct, Ephorus says, for, in the first place, one should not draw evidence as to antiquity from the present state of things, for both peoples have undergone a complete reversal; for instance, the Cretans in earlier times were masters of the sea, and hence the proverb, "The Cretan does not know the sea," is applied to those who pretend not to know what they do know, although now the Cretans have lost their fleet; and, in the second place, it does not follow that, because some of the cities in Crete were Spartan colonies, they were under compulsion to keep to the Spartan institutions; at any rate, many colonial cities do not observe their ancestral customs, and many, also, of those in Crete that are not colonial have the same customs as the colonists.
Lycurgus the Spartan law‑giver, Ephorus continues, was five generations later than the Althaemenes who conducted the colony to Crete; for historians say that Althaemenes was son of the Cissus who founded Argos about the same time when Procles was establishing Sparta as metropolis; and Lycurgus, as agreed by all, was sixth in descent from Procles; and copies are not earlier than their models, nor more recent things earlier than older things; not only the dancing which is customary among the Lacedaemonians, but also the rhythms and paeans that are sung according to the law, and many other Spartan institutions, are called "Cretan" among the Lacedaemonians, as though they originated in Crete; and some of the public offices are not only administered in the same way as in Crete, but also have the same names, as, for instance, the office of the "Gerontes," and that of the "Hippeis" (except that the "Hippeis" in Crete actually possessed horses, and from this fact it is inferred that the office of the "Hippeis" in Crete is older, for they preserve the true meaning of the appellation, whereas the Lacedaemonian "Hippeis" do not keep horses); but though the Ephors have the same functions as the Cretan Cosmi, they have been named differently; and the public messes are, even to‑day, still called "Andreia" among the Cretans, but among the Spartans they ceased to be called by the same name as in earlier times;54 at any rate, the following is found in Alcman: "In feasts and festive gatherings, amongst the guests who partake of the Andreia, 'tis meet to begin the paean."
It is said by the Cretans, Ephorus continues, that Lycurgus came to them for the following reason: Polydectes was the elder brother of Lycurgus; when he died he left his wife pregnant; now for a time Lycurgus reigned in his brother's place, but when a child was born he became the child's guardian, since the office of king descended to the child, but some man, railing at Lycurgus, said that he knew for sure that Lycurgus would be king; and Lycurgus, suspecting that in consequence of such talk he himself might be falsely accused of plotting against the child, and fearing that, if by any chance the child should die, he himself might be blamed for it by his enemies, sailed away to Crete; this, then, is said to be the cause of his sojourn in Crete; and when he arrived he associated with Thales, a melic poet and an expert in lawgiving; and after learning from him the manner in which both Rhadamanthys in earlier times and Minos in later times published their laws to men as from Zeus, and after sojourning in Egypt also and learning among other things their institutions, and, according to some writers, after meeting Homer, who was living in Chios, he sailed back to his homeland, and found his brother's son, Charilaüs the son of Polydectes, reigning as king; and then he set out to frame the laws, making visits to the god at Delphi, and bringing thence the god's decrees, just as Minos and his house had brought their ordinances from the cave of Zeus, most of his being similar to theirs.
The following are the most important provisions in the Cretan institutions as stated by Ephorus. In Crete all those who are selected out of the "Troop" of boys at the same time are forced to marry at the same time, although they do not take the girls whom they have married to their own homes immediately, but as soon as the girls are qualified to manage the affairs of the house. A girl's dower, if she has brothers, is half of the brother's portion. The children must learn, not only their letters, but also the songs prescribed in the laws and certain forms of music.
Now those who are still younger are taken to the public messes, the "Andreia"; and they sit together on the ground as they eat their food, clad in shabby garments, the same both winter and summer, and they also wait on the men as well as themselves. And those who eat together at the same mess join battle both with one another and with those from different messes. A boy‑director presides over each mess. But the older boys are taken to the "Troops"; and the most conspicuous and influential of the boys assemble the "Troops," each collecting as many boys as he possibly can; the leader of each "Troop" is generally the father of the assembler, and he has authority to lead them forth to hunt and to run races, and to punish anyone who is disobedient; and they are fed at public expense; and on certain appointed days "Troop" contends with "Troop," marching rhythmically into battle, to the tune of flute and lyre, as is their custom in actual war; and they actually bear marks of the blows received, some inflicted by the hand, others by iron weapons.
They have a peculiar custom in regard to love affairs, for they win the objects of their love, not by persuasion, but by abduction; the lover tells the friends of the boy three or four days beforehand that he is going to make the abduction; but for the friends to conceal the boy, or not to let him go forth by the appointed road, is indeed a most disgraceful thing, a confession, as it were, that the boy is unworthy to obtain such a lover; and when they meet, if the abductor is the boy's equal or superior in rank or other respects, the friends pursue him and lay hold of him, though only in a very gentle way, thus satisfying the custom; and after that they cheerfully turn the boy over to him to lead away; if, however, the abductor is unworthy, they take the boy away from him.
And the pursuit does not end until the boy is taken to the "Andreium" of his abductor. They regard as a worthy object of love, but the boy who is exceptionally handsome, but the boy who is exceptionally manly and decorous. After giving the boy presents, the abductor takes him away to any place in the country he wishes; and those who were present at the abduction follow after them, and after feasting and hunting with them for two months (for it is not permitted to detain the boy for a longer time), they return to the city. The boy is released after receiving as presents a military habit, an ox, and a drinking‑cup (these are the gifts required by law), and other things so numerous and costly that the friends, on account of the number of the expenses, make contributions thereto.
Now the boy sacrifices the ox to Zeus and feasts those who returned with him; and then he makes known the facts about his intimacy with his lover, whether, perchance, it has pleased him or not, the law allowing him this privilege in order that, if any force was applied to him at the time of the abduction, he might be able at this feast to avenge himself and be rid of the lover. It is disgraceful for those who are handsome in appearance or descendants of illustrious ancestors to fail to obtain lovers, the presumption being that their character is responsible for such a fate.
But the parastathentes (for thus they call those who have been abducted) receive honours; for in both the dances and the races they have the positions of highest honour, and are allowed to dress in better clothes than the rest, that is, in the habit given them by their lovers; and not then only, but even after they have grown to manhood, they wear a distinctive dress, which is intended to make known the fact that each wearer has become "kleinos," for they call the loved one "kleinos" and the lover "philetor."61 So much for their customs in regard to love affairs.
The Cretans choose ten Archons. Concerning the matters of greatest importance they use as counsellors the "Gerontes," as they are called. Those who have been thought worthy to hold the office of the "Cosmi" and are otherwise adjudged men of approved worth are appointed members of this Council. I have assumed that the constitution of the Cretans is worthy of description both on account of its peculiar character and on account of its fame. Not many, however, of these institutions endure, but the administration of affairs is carried on mostly by means of the decrees of the Romans, as is also the case in the other provinces.